In the couple of weeks before my ‘Memoir: Shaping narratives’ week at Lumb Bank, I suddenly felt too young to be writing a memoir, which I am. It’s not the end of my life. Memoirs are for old people. Besides, what do I have to say? The other people on the course all had real stories, big stuff had happened to them. They seemed the type who always intimidate me; predominantly wealthy, well travelled, with high powered roles and busy lives. Many already had their memoirs, and just needed help refining it. I felt inadequate.
My Arvon week helped me to free the shackles of the inner critic that stops me putting pen to paper.
Described in the brochure as ‘a week for writers aiming to say something about their lives’ it sums up in many ways what writing is about. Nearly all writing involves some personal happenings, memories, a blurring of fact and fiction. That can be tricky to do, especially when writing from life. Your experience inevitably involves others, and the need for privacy and protection, as well as a desire for accuracy can make things tough. The truth is murkier than we think, and some of my favourite moments were the lively debates about whose truth is the truth?!
Taught by journalists Sathnam Sanghera and Hannah Pool, whose books The Boy With The Topknot and My Father’s Daughter both explore the themes of family secrets and identity, the course explored all elements of finding a story, and telling that story. From interviewing skills to pitching your book, writing about events long ago buried, and thinking about form and voice, the workshops were educational and enlightening. Afternoons were free to write, but I also found myself walking, reading, and napping. Lumb Bank, with its history, vast library and stunning location is full of inspiration, all of which is hugely nourishing to a writer. A combination of structured workshops, individual tutorials and free time provided the right balance of stimulation and opportunity to think, and I found myself excited and rejuvenated for future writing.
And what of those other writers who intimidated me so much? I don’t know if it’s always like this, or is a virtue of a course on memoir and the personal stories and vulnerability encountered as a result, but the group bonded quickly and deeply. Travelling from as far as Alaska and South Korea just for the week, aged 29 – 84, from diverse backgrounds and histories, the fifteen of us would almost certainly have never met in the ‘real’ world, yet here the conversation was flying. Cooking together, sharing our writing, and free flowing wine all makes for connections. Scratching beneath the surface I learned of things we had in common, and things I had never thought of. Rather than pressure, I found support and encouragement.
On the final evening, when the stage became ours and we read aloud a piece of writing, the tears, laughter and praise was wonderful to see. Clear talent existed in the room, whatever disparaging putdowns people made about themselves. Many said that the week had changed their writing, made them reconsider their book, format, or angle, and what they were reading tonight could never have happened without it.
Every person has their own story, voice, style and perspective. This week at Arvon Lumb Bank did not teach anyone what to write or how to write it, but guide the individual to their truth, to tell their story in the best way they can, and share it with the world.